The Marion County Public Health Department will begin a free COVID-19 testing program aimed at residents in parts of the city that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The first site will be at Eastern Star Church’s main campus, 5750 E. 30th St., on April 30, according to the county health department’s director, Dr. Virginia Caine.
Eastern Star Church is in the 46218 zip code, which Caine said is one of the worst hot spots in the county, though specific numbers weren’t available.
The initiative will eventually include three testing locations that will be announced in the coming weeks. Caine also said there will be more initiatives to address disparities exacerbated by COVID-19.
Marion County got its first testing site earlier in April from the Indiana State Department of Health at the state fairgrounds, but it is only available for certain essential workers.
The county’s initiative will at first be for those who are showing symptoms — cough, shortness of breath, fever, etc. — and those who are elderly or immunocompromised. The initial phase of testing will also be reserved for frontline workers, according to Caine, and that includes employees in the food industry.
Caine said the goal is for the third testing site to be open to anyone who would like to get a test, regardless of whether you have symptoms, since testing so far has mostly been reserved for frontline workers and those with symptoms.
Those who go to a testing site through the county health department’s initiative won’t need a doctor’s recommendation, Caine said, and they also won’t need to have insurance. The health department will cover the cost.
The county health department released the first batch of data April 20 showing African Americans are three times as likely as whites to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, 2 1/2 times as likely to be hospitalized and almost twice as likely to die.
Statewide, African Americans make up about 17% of cases and 17.5% of deaths, according to data from the state health department, despite only being less than 10% of the population.
Local access to testing has been a big concern for Linda Ellis, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Planning Development Corporation.
Ellis has heard concerns from people in the community who went to a hospital with symptoms and were initially sent home, only to return days later to get a test that came back positive.
And those are the ones with reliable transportation to get to a hospital.
“We have a great need to do more,” Ellis said, “but we can only work within our own confines and limitations.”
Pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star Church, said he’s heard from people in the community who haven’t been able to get tested because of issues such as transportation and not having access to a doctor to recommend the test.
“We need equal testing and equal remedy,” Johnson said during the announcement, “and we can’t have equal remedy if we don’t have equal testing.”
In a previous interview with the Recorder, Caine said there are systemic issues that have led to African Americans suffering a disproportionate amount of the harm caused by COVID-19; it’s not just preexisting conditions.
People with no health insurance — or with bad health insurance — may wait until they’re really sick before trying to see a doctor or getting an ambulance ride to the emergency room, which is expensive.
“It’s like a vicious cycle,” she said. “Because of my health care costs, my credit is going down. I may not be able to have a credit card to buy stuff. … So vicious.”
The testing sites will include a drive-thru, as seen at most other testing sites, but residents will also be able to walk up to get a test. An appointment is required to get a test at Eastern Star Church. Make an appointment by registering online or calling 317-221-5515.
The goal is to start by testing a minimum of 1,000 people per week, Caine said, and then increasing that to 3,000 within a few weeks.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
health workers with face masksDavid Pereiras